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Darwin's to close after 30 years of business – GBH News

After 30 years of serving cups of coffee to Cambridge, Darwin’s Ltd. is set to close all four locations in the coming weeks.
Breaking the news of the closure via social media, owners Steven and Isabel Darwin said they have decided to retire from this line of work. Darwin’s will shutter its doors at the flagship Mount Auburn store on Nov. 22. Closing dates for the remaining three locations — Putnam Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue and Cambridge Street — have yet to be determined by the union.
“We thank the thousands of employees, customers and the City of Cambridge for allowing and supporting the 30-year experience & success of our family-owned business,” owners Steven and Isabel Darwin said in the statement.
Reactions to the news were mixed. For some customers and staff, the announcement of Darwin’s closing came eerily close to negotiations between union, Darwin’s United, and owners following the push for unionization in the company.
“I was really excited about hearing about the collective bargaining agreement last year, and I’m a little nervous that they’ve announced the closure right when that agreement was reached a few months after,” said Jacob Cantor, a patron at Darwin’s Putnam Avenue. He added that this decision “doesn’t set a great tone” for labor efforts at other cafes in the region.
Darwin’s United formed in September 2021 following a petition being filed by almost 40 workers. The union demaded a “living wage” of $24 per hour, “inclusive, affordable, zero deductible” health insurance, and at least three weeks of paid time off. Negotiations between the union and owners began in November 2021, according to the Union’s twitter, but an agreement had yet to be reached.
Sam Swedberg, a barista at Darwin’s Putnam Avenue location and member of Darwin’s United’s action committee, believed the union was close to reaching an agreement with the owners. He was disappointed but unsurprised by the announcement that the stores were closing.
“Rent is extremely high here, and to have thought for a moment that there might be a change [and] you might be able to think beyond the check for this month’s rent … it’s just gone now,” he said.
Swedberg said he immediately began worrying about how he and his coworkers would make their rents with only severances being doled out amid the holiday season.
During coversations between the union and owner Steven Darwin, Swedberg became aware of the owners’ intent to shutter the Mount Auburn location, however he anticipated that would not happen for a few more years.
“He had said at first, ‘D-One is out’ [referring to Darwin’s first location] and we were trying to save D1 — maybe not the store itself, but the jobs,” Swedberg said.
After only two months of the job, Swedberg learned of his laying off through the union. He said workers from other stores took over the bar at the Putnam Avenue location while union representatives took employees to the back and relayed the news — merely an hour after Darwin had visited the store and said hello to staff.
“You’re just expected to hear that news, go back out front and suddenly you’re making drinks, you’re taking orders,” he said. “[Someone says] ‘Hey, how you doing today?’ Like, ‘Oh, I’m doing great, I just found out that I’m getting laid off in December after spending a month trying to find this job.’”
Steven Darwin was unable to be reached for comment on this article.
In regards to the larger push for unionization in the coffee industry, Swedberg hopes Darwin’s closure doesn’t deter the fight locally.
“I hope they don’t look at Darwin’s and say, ‘Oh, they all lost their jobs, we’re not going to do a lot there,” he said.
Outside of union concerns, patrons were sad to see their beloved coffee shop go. Sun-jung Yum, a lifelong Cambridge resident, grew up going to Darwin’s, frequenting the Cambridge Street location throughout high school. When she learned the news, she was shocked, feeling as if it “came out of nowhere.”
“I never really imagined that it would just not be there,” she said.
Dave Iannetta, who has also been going to Darwin’s for years — first the Mount Auburn location, then the Massachusetts Avenue one — said the closure will be a loss for the neighborhood.
“I’ve lived in Cambridge for 16 years, and they’ve always been around,” he said.

Liz Neisloss contributed reporting.
Frankie is a GBH News intern for fall 2022.
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